Living Reflection


Learning To Reflect Instead of React Defensively

We’ve all experienced it before – someone makes a comment that doesn’t sit well with us or feels like a personal attack. Our natural reaction is often to get defensive and respond with anger. However, there is a more positive alternative.

Instead of reacting defensively, we can choose to reflect on the situation. By taking a moment to pause and consider the comment, we can find a better way to respond that promotes understanding and empathy. In doing so, we can transform potentially hurtful situations into opportunities for personal growth and connection.

Rather than reacting in the moment when you feel slighted, make a point to capture the comment and reflect on it later. Here are some tips:

  • Mentally flag it. When the hurtful comment happens, simply make a mental note that you want to revisit this later. Don’t ignore it, but don’t dwell on it in the moment either.
  • Write it down. As soon as possible after the interaction, write down the comment word-for-word to the best of your recollection. Capture any other key details about the context as well. Getting it out of your head and onto paper can help diffuse the intensity of the emotions.
  • Ask yourself key questions. When you’re ready to reflect, ask yourself: What was the intent behind this comment? Was it meant to be hurtful or did I interpret it that way? Is my reaction disproportionate to what was actually said? What insecurities or experiences of mine may be getting triggered?
  • Consider the other perspective. Try to look at it from the other person’s point of view. What were they trying to express? Is there some valid point I’m missing because of my defensiveness?
  • Examine your part. Could I have said or done something to contribute to the situation? Is there a way I can act differently next time to lead to a more positive outcome?
  • Let some time pass. Don’t force yourself to analyze the comment within minutes or hours of when it occurred. Let the intensity of the emotions fade so you can reflect calmly and objectively.
  • Talk to a trusted friend. Getting an outside perspective from someone you trust can be invaluable. Run the comment and context by them to see if they have any insights about the intent or any blind spots you may have.
  • Consider if any action is needed. After reflecting, decide whether any follow-up action is appropriate – either clarifying the misunderstanding with the other person or making a change in your own behavior going forward.
  • Practice self-compassion. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and says things they regret. Don’t beat yourself up excessively over the situation. Focus on what you can learn from it.
  • Forgive and move on. At a certain point, you have to consciously choose to forgive the other person, forgive yourself, and move on constructively rather than staying stuck in resentment.

Taking this reflective approach avoids knee-jerk defensive reactions. It gives you space to process the comment from multiple angles. That said, reflection has its downsides if you overdo it:

  • Over-analyzing can keep rehashing the pain instead of moving past it.
  • You may second-guess yourself or wallow in regret over how you handled it initially.
  • Dwelling negatively affects your self-esteem and crowds out other more positive thoughts.
  • Keeping mental records of grievances breeds resentment and damages relationships.
  • It takes time and energy that could be better directed elsewhere.

The healthiest approach is to reflect just long enough to gain some useful perspective, but not so long that you get mired down. Use the insights from reflection to better handle similar situations in the future, then make an intentional decision to shift your focus to something more positive.

Learning to respond thoughtfully rather than react defensively requires dedication and practice. It empowers you to engage in a manner that reflects your values, preserving your own dignity while keeping the lines of communication open with those who hold different perspectives. With time, you will become adept at recognizing and intercepting negative thought patterns, enabling you to remain poised and grounded even when faced with hurtful remarks.

Journaling Living medical

Lessons from 2012: Keeping a Personal Journal

Home Delivery - North Beach - 2012

Years ago, I tuned into the journaling work of Ira Progoff – reading his books and appreciating what he was advocating. But I never seriously committed to his journaling practice. Just too lazy, I think. (Yes, I did decide to start blogging over 10 years ago – but blogs and journals are different – public/private, etc.)

Earlier this year, I had surgery for prostate cancer. In the process, I reconnected with the notion of keeping a personal journal – and it’s proven to be a very valuable process for me ever since.

Here’s how that happened…

As it turns out, both my Dad and his Dad died from the effects of prostate cancer – and, as a result, I had begun a monitoring regime with my GP a few years ago utilizing PSA tests to monitor the health of my prostate. Two years ago, my PSA results crossed a threshold of concern – which led to me having a series of tests that identified I had a low grade prostate cancer.

After the tests raised the alarm, I sought the advice of prostate cancer specialists at the University of California – San Francisco. We entered an “active surveillance” program – involving periodic ultrasound examinations and PSA screenings. Early this year, my results indicated I’d crossed a threshold – where some sort of active treatment was going to be required. I opted for what’s known as a prostatectomy – a surgical procedure that removes the prostate gland and, in the process, hopefully excises the cancer. In my case, it worked very well – the cancer is gone.

I wanted to start keeping a post-surgery journal following my surgery – and, as it happened, Day One had been released just a few months before. The nerd that I am was attracted to the notion of having a journal in the cloud accessible from all of my various devices – and that’s what Day One promised to deliver. My first journal entry was early the morning of my surgery – as we were heading up to UCSF. My second journal entry was late afternoon the day after my surgery – appropriately titled “Coming Home” – describing how I was heading back home with my catheter installed and walking everywhere with “my bag” on my leg.

Since those initial entries, I’ve written at least once a day in my journal. Initially, mostly about how I was feeling post-surgery. But gradually my focus shifted – as my recovery progressed and I began writing in my journal about other, much more interesting things! Having a quick place to write my thoughts into my journal has been a delightful experience. I wish I’d started this practice a couple of years ago when I had rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder.

As I look back on the last several months of snapshots of my thoughts captured in journal entries, I smile. They bring back memories, things I noticed at the time and would otherwise forget. Somehow having them at my fingertips just feels satisfying.

My journaling turns out to be a new treat – another lesson I learned in 2012.